There’s the fun kind of exercise, like my dance class this morning, shaking off the night’s sleep and building energy for the day. Then there’s the not-so fun kind, like carrying my thirty-plus pound toddler many blocks because she went all Baby-With-No-Bones on me and refused to walk from one bus to the next.
The worst part about it is whenever she makes me mad and I get stoic with her, she says, “Mama, you happy?” With her cradled nearly upside down in a football hold, I grit my teeth and say, “No baby, Mama’s not happy right now. Mama is frustrated.” She asks again, in a few minutes. I say, “Mama is feeling a bit better.” She keeps asking, until I’m back to homeostasis, having done some deep ujjayi breathing and finding my gratitude (“I’m grateful that I dug down into my patience reserves and did not curse out my kid on Fillmore Street. I’m grateful that I did push-ups yesterday and therefore am not throwing my back out carrying this child. I’m grateful that I have soup and bread and ice cream waiting for me at home for lunch. I am grateful for nap time.”)
Lately, my two year old has been knocking my socks off with her sweetness, depth of communication, and ability to do things with me I never dreamed possible. There was the morning she woke me up by saying, “Mama, you look beautiful.” Anyone who has seen me first thing in the morning can concur that she was being quite generous. There was the sweet rainy day dance jam we had in which we put on slow music and “talked” to each other through our bodies, really feeling the music. And there were the several times this week she’s held babies, getting quiet and still, kissing their little heads and being so soft with them.
If I can live in those moments, I am in awe that I have been given such a thoughtful, creative, kind child to care for and release into the world. But toddlers are known for the hugeness of their emotions. Her deep ability to love me with arms wide open also gives her the capacity to scream at me at the top of her lungs at 7 AM about the speed that I am able to get her oatmeal to the table. It gives her the surge of feeling that led her to hit me in the street the other day, (and then, yes, ask me if I was happy) causing me to pick her up yet again and get home as quickly as we could so I could hand her off to her papa and have a few moments alone to rethink my life.
The interesting part of the “Terrible Twos” is that she is learning empathy through these outbursts. When I came home from that walk-gone-wrong the other day, I went into my bedroom and Olive told my husband, “I hit Mommy. I feel bad.” Totally of her own accord, she came in and apologized to me. I said, “I forgive you.” And I did, fully and completely. We went out together to play with stickers and reconnect.
Having a toddler is emotionally and physically exhausting. We go through literally millions of activities and emotional states per day. There is no “good day” or “bad day”, there’s good moments and very difficult moments. Lately I have been wondering, have we got it all wrong as a society? We pile on all the love and support when people have a baby, but it’s the toddler years that parents need help with the most! So, if you’re reading this, say a little prayer for the mama or papa on the street that’s trying to get their child to come out of the dog crap they’ve decided to stomp in, or call up your friend who spends her day running full tilt after a small person and say, “Wanna get some tea? Just you, a big leather chair, and a huge novel. I’ll watch the kid.” Best Christmas present ever.